an opinion…to ponder

I came across the following in today’s Wall Street Journal which I thought deserved sharing, primarily because of its author.

afghanistan

afghanistan (Photo credit: The U.S. Army)

The gentleman is not someone of notoriety; rather, he’s more like…every man.


A Marine Volunteers–for a Pay Cut

by Benjamin Luxenberg

US Navy 090424-N-3271W-021 More than 500 veter...

US Navy 090424-N-3271W-021 More than 500 veterans who escorted the unclaimed remains of seven Iowa veterans to their final resting place at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery line the procession route with American flags after providin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

America owes its veterans. For the past 12 years, they have toiled and sacrificed in Iraq, Afghanistan and in so many other places around the world. Thousands made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives, and thousands more were wounded. Even those without serious injuries gave their blood, sweat and tears. When service members take their oath, they are writing a blank check to the U.S. government, to the American people, for their lives. When and how America chooses to cash that check is beyond their control.

Nor should the untold sacrifices of military families be forgotten. How many husbands weren’t with their wives during the birth of their child? How many kids’ birthdays or Little League games were missed? How many childhoods were missed almost entirely? Twelve years of war does that. The time cannot pay veterans enough to compensate for those kinds of losses.

America has asked–or, more truthfully, demanded–so much from its veterans. And yet the country must now ask for more. Not for more of those things that really matter, the things that make life worth living. What the country seeks is more material in nature: basically, money.

The current budget sequestration plan protects military pay at the expense of all other costs in the Defense Department. Because our pay (I am a Marine) has become sacrosanct, even deeper cuts in the rest of the Defense Department budget will have to be made–cuts that will endanger us now and in the future. It isn’t just a matter of national security but also of personal security. As the Pentagon reduces funds for equipment, troops may begin to wonder: Are we going to be forced to surrender body armor to keep our pay? A more reasonable balance needs to be found. Even the currently envisioned cuts won’t necessarily be enough to stave off future ones, especially if military pay continues to be off-limits.

National security shouldn’t be sacrificed on the altar of military pay. But cuts wouldn’t have to start with basic paychecks. They could begin by aligning special pay across the branches. For example, airmen who serve aboard Navy ships earn “hardship pay” while the sailors aboard those same ships don’t. Serving aboard ship isn’t reasonably more difficult for an airman than it is for a sailor or Marine. Lodging and food allowances for those temporarily assigned to certain units can be reduced; there is no need for service members who are on temporary active duty in Bahrain–sometimes for as long as a year–to receive $142 per day on top of all the other moneys and forms of compensation. And there are, no doubt, dozens of other small fixes that can make some difference to the military budget.

But, ultimately, even base pay may have to be put on the line. Congress should cut only what feels justified in the name of national security. The cuts should be done the American way: Those who most need the money should be affected the least. Don’t start with cuts for everyone across the board. In the Marine Corps, we have a saying” “Officers eat last.” We officers exist to serve the enlisted Marines under our command. Start with us. But don’t start with those of us who are married and on whom spouses depend. Don’t start with those of us who have children. Start with those of us who don’t. Start with the single, childless officers. Start with me.

Yet active-duty service members and veterans cannot endure these sacrifices alone. For the past dozen years, most Americans have barely felt the impact of the wars and deployments abroad. To steer the government and the U.S. economy–the greatest pillar of national security–back on track, let everyone bear some of the burden. Let civilian officials take a pay cut too. Let older Americans, including my own grandparents–Nani, Papa Bernie, Grandma Dorothy–accept some cuts in Medicare. The middle-aged (that means you, Mom and Dad) must accept some cuts to Social Security benefits upon retirement. And to my civilian friends (Greg, Preethi, David, Anna), you must accept raising the Social Security retirement age, whether it is a mere two years or a painful 10.

It is long past time for all Americans to share in the sacrifice. Nothing should be off the table. Maintaining present comforts at the expense of future security endangers everything that veterans and their families have fought for. Don’t tell them that they fought in vain. That is what America owes.

Mr. Luxenberg is a first lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. His views do not represent those of the Defense Department or USMC.


We all make sacrifices, big and small.

Even civilian families are often denied the substantive presence of working fathers…and mothers. And many do not have Uncle Sam footing the bill for health care costs and the like. 

Notwithstanding such comparable sacrifices, those in the military are charged with the extraordinary task of dying…to preserve our freedom and those of others who desire democracy for themselves.

Death is…the ultimate sacrifice.

English: Arlington National Cemetery: A U.S. M...

English: Arlington National Cemetery: A U.S. Marine with the Drum and Bugle Corps, Marine Barracks Washington, plays Taps during an interment ceremony for 11 Marines recently brought back from Vietnam. Hundreds of friends, family and service members were on hand to pay tribute to the men who made the ultimate sacrifice so many years before. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…not something to be taken lightly…

………hugmamma.

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business and the oval office…a duck out of water

A good read in today’s Wall Street Journal, the following article brings perspective to the requirements of the Oval Office. Where I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I felt in my gut, this writer nailed it. Perhaps you’ll agree. Let me know what you think.

The Case Against a CEO in the Oval Office
by Alan S. Blinder

Mitt Romney, Mr. 1% - Cartoon

Mitt Romney, Mr. 1% – Cartoon (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

Mitt Romney bases his case for being president on his evident success in business, where he made a fortune as CEO of Bain Capital. But are business achievements important, or even relevant, to the presidency?

Probably not. Presidential history teaches us that the abilities, character traits and attitudes it takes to succeed in business have little in common with what it takes to succeed in government. In some respects, they are antithetical.

Think of our greatest presidents. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the two Roosevelts didn’t have any business accomplishments to their credit. (Well, maybe Washington did, a little.) Neither, by the way, did Republican icon Ronald Reagan, who was once a union leader. Harry Truman sold a few hats, and Woodrow Wilson was a professor. On the other hand, the two truly successful businessmen to win the presidency were Herbert Hoover and George H.W. Bush.

This negative correlation between business success and political success is probably not a coincidence. Nolan Bushnell, the highly successful entrepreneur who founded both Atari and Chuck E. Cheese, once observed that “Business is a good game–lots of competition and a minimum of rules. You keep score with money.” That’s virtually the opposite of being president of the United States: The president has no direct competitors (though he does have opponents), must abide by numerous rules and certainly doesn’t keep score with money.

The differences between business and government are manifold. Start with democracy, the preservation and strengthening of which may be a president’s first duty. Not many successful companies are run as democracies; benign dictatorship works far better. All the checks and balances that characterize American democracy would drive a hard-charging CEO, accustomed to getting his own way, crazy.

Sound companies dote on efficiency. They’d better, for the competitive marketplace is a tough environment. If you’re less efficient than your competitors, you’ll founder and probably fail. That’s what we love about capitalism–the survival of the fittest.

While there are niches in the federal government where efficiency matters a great deal, such as in defense procurement or running the General Services Administration, the White House isn’t one of them. Hoover was a sterling manager. But as he learned painfully, the big decisions aren’t about efficiency at all. It may even be critical to cut people a little slack here and there.

Rather than worshiping efficiency, some notion of ” fairness” is typically paramount in government. One of the key success criteria in politics may be public perceptions of fairness, for perceptions and realities don’t always line up.

Fair dealing can be important in the business world, too. But fairness per se–in the sense of everyone getting his or her just deserts–rarely is. Markets are engines of efficiency, not fairness. In fact, a generous helping of greed may be good in business, as Gordon Gekko–and before him, Adam Smith–taught us.

Which brings us back to keeping score. Top business executives focus single-mindedly on the “bottom line,” meaning profits. Among the reasons why so many smart business people fail in politics and government is that there is no bottom line–or perhaps I should say there are so many bottom lines that the search for a single one is futile.

A president wants to further the national interest. But that amorphous phrase subsumes dozens of goals, some of which are vague and several of which may conflict with others. Governing is certainly not about profits, whatever that might mean in a political context. The crisp political goal analogous to maximizing profits is maximizing your chances of re-election. But do we really want a president who dotes on that every day? By that ignoble standard, Richard Nixon was surely one of our greatest presidents and Lincoln one of our worst.

A long-standing debate rages over whether companies should act solely in the interests of their shareholders or should consider more broadly the well-being of “stakeholders”–a more encompassing term that includes (at a minimum) employees, suppliers, and the communities in which they operate. Stakeholder versus shareholder perspectives can lead to quite different decisions. Think, for example, of laying off workers or closing a plant. But there is no such debate in the private-equity world, Mr. Romney’s business home. Bain Capital’s website says that the firm’s mission “is to produce superior investment returns for our investors,” period. Governments need a wider view.

A good president communicates well with people and inspires them. Think about Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt–or more recently, Reagan and Bill Clinton. Corporate leaders need communication skills, too, but of rather different sorts. Mitt Romney’s repeated verbal stumbles bear witness to the differences; I presume he was a whiz with balance sheets and corporate boards. Barack Obama may never have met a payroll, but he’s a gifted orator, and empathy and fairness are in his bones.

Presidents must also be patient, a trait not prized in CEOs. A CEO often demands quick action and results. But the American system of government wasn’t designed for rapid change. Those annoying checks and balances are meant to get in the way. You don’t have to remind President Obama that Congress often tosses his ideas out the window–or totally ignores them. That doesn’t happen much to CEOs, whose underlings generally snap to attention. That may be why Mr. Romney keeps telling us all the things he’ll do in his first days in office. Oh, really? He apparently hasn’t met the U.S. Congress.

Setting foreign and military policy is the one place where, as George W. Bush inelegantly put it, the president often is “the decider.” But it’s the rare corporate executive who has any experience in, or even much knowledge of, these matters. Recall former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain stumbling over the names of countries. But it is the rare president who is not immersed in foreign policy virtually every day.

So don’t be surprised to find a superior businessman looking like a duck out of water as a presidential candidate. It is what history and logic should lead you to expect. The business of America’s government is not business.

The Peacemakers.

The Peacemakers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Mr. Blinder, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, is a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve.)

 

English: President Barack Obama welcomes Israe...

English: President Barack Obama welcomes Israeli President Shimon Peres in the Oval Office Tuesday, May 5, 2009. At right is Vice President Joe Biden. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza. Français : President Barack Obama accueille le président israélien Shimon Peres dans le bureau ovale mardi 5 mai 2009. A droite, le vice-président Joe Biden. Photo officielle de la Maison Blanche par Pete Souza. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

at the heart…of the storm…

 

Following is the low down behind the now infamous YouTube video that has wrecked havoc in the Middle East.

“U.S. Probes Alleged Video Producer”
by Devlin Barrett, Tamara Audi and Erica Orden

Federal authorities are investigating whether the man allegedly behind a video insulting to Muslims violated the terms of his probation by using computers and the Internet, according to two U.S. officials.

The man in question, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, was arrested in 2009 and was convicted of bank fraud a year later for a scheme in which he defrauded banks of thousands of dollars, according to documents from Los Angeles federal court.

The law-enforcement officials say they believe Mr. Nakoula is the same man who in recent days has been identifying himself as Sam Bacile, declining to say how they have drawn the connection.

A man calling himself Sam Bacile said in interviews, including a telephone conversation Tuesday with The Wall Street Journal, that he directed a film called “Innocence of Muslims.” A clip posted to Google Inc.’s YouTube by one Sam Bacile in July, which purported to be a trailer for a film about the Prophet Muhammad, has sparked angry protests in the Middle East.

The movie has its roots with a Southern California group of Egyptian Christians associated with extremist critics of Islam. The film’s assistant director, Jeffrey Robinson, said its production budget was just $250,000.

Media for Christ, a nonprofit religious organization in the city of Duarte, about 20 miles northeast of Los Angeles, took out a permit to film the movie that came to be called “Innocence of Muslims” according to Film LA Inc., which coordinates permits.

Media for Christ produces Christian television programming and broadcasts it abroad in Arabic and English, some of it highly critical of Islam.

Duarte officials said the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is providing extra patrols of the group’s facilities, which include a television production house called “The Way TV.”

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Southern California, said the Christian group in Duarte was “well-known for being Coptic,” the term for Egyptian Christians. Mr. Ayloush said some local Muslims have complained to him that some of its shows are spreading anti-Muslim propaganda.

Several women who answered the phone at Media for Christ and The way TV, who declined to identify themselves, said they didn’t know anything about the movie.

The Way TV aims to “use Christian satellite television to transform the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, American and Canada,” says its website.

The views espoused by The Way TV and Media for Christ appear to be far from the norm among Egyptian Christians, known as Copts–a mainstream group of Christians with moderate views similar to those of other major Christian religions. The Coptic Church, like the Greek Orthodox Church, has its own hierarchy and leadership.

There are small communities of Copts in the U.S., including in Southern California. They have denounced the film, and in recent days some have expressed fears it would spur retaliations against Coptic communities overseas. Mr. Nakoula told the Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that he, too, was a Christian Copt.

In recent years, well-known extreme anti-Islamists like Steve Klein, an insurance salesman from Southern California, have linked with a few Coptic Christians, said Muslim civil-rights groups monitoring the situation. These loosely formed alliances have produced protests at Islamic centers and events in the last few years. Mr. Klein, who didn’t return calls seeking comment, has said in media reports that he served as a consultant on the film.

“There are built-in tensions between Muslims and Copts,” said Mr. Ayloush, whose group put out a statement before the deadly embassy assault in Libya urging Muslims to ignore the film. “It just takes a few extremists to throw fuel on the fire and then other extremists to take the bait, and suddenly the entire world is dealing with a crisis.”

In the AP interview, a person identifying himself as Mr. Nakoula said he had managed the film’s production but denied he was Mr. Bacile. Attempts to identify a Nakoula B. Nakoula at the address were unsuccessful.

The creation of the film itself is unlikely to have violated any laws. The First Amendment and subsequent Supreme Court decisions specifically protect speech even if it is offensive.

However, under Mr. Nakoula’s terms of probation, he can’t access online services without the approval of a probation officer.

Of particular interest to officials now is that someone claiming to be Sam Bacile has repeatedly used the Internet in recent weeks, including to post the 14-minute trailer to YouTube. The U.S. Probation Office in Los Angeles declined to comment.

(Wall Street Journal, Friday, 9/14/12)

…all it takes…is one bad apple…

…hugmamma………

 

letting babies cry…

As referenced in my previous post, following is the Wall Street Journal article that prompted me to put fingers to keys on my laptop.

A smiling baby lying in a soft cot (furniture).

A smiling baby lying in a soft cot (furniture). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Letting Babies Cry a Bit Is OK
by Andrea Petersen

   Letting babies cry for short periods of time while teaching them to sleep by themselves doesn’t cause long-term psychological problems or damage the parent-child relationship, says a study being published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

   The study, which followed children until they were 6 years old, will likely add fuel to an emotional debate that rages on playgrounds, on Facebook and within marriages: whether or not exhausted parents should “sleep train” their babies.

   The behavioral techniques used in the study didn’t include the most controversial method, known as extinction, or “cry it out,” in which parents put the baby to bed, close the door and don’t open it until morning, no matter how long and vociferously the baby sobs. While effective, cry it out “is very distressing to parents,” said Anna Price, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Community Child Health, the Royal Children’s Hospital in Parkville, Australia. “It is hard to do. We don’t recommend it.”

   Instead, the study used two somewhat gentler approaches. In “controlled comforting,” parents return to the room of a crying baby at regular intervals to offer some limited soothing. (Parents often refer to this as a version of cry it out.) It is the technique known colloquially as “Ferberizing,” after Richard Ferber, the doctor who popularized it.

   In “camping out,” parents start by sitting in a chair next to the baby’s bed and slowly–over several weeks–move the chair until they are out of the room and the baby is falling asleep alone.

   But some critics, including proponents of “attachment parenting”–which also advocates parents and baby sleeping in the same bed–assert that the Ferber method, too, weakens the bond between parent and child and can lead to behavioral and emotional problems later on.

   On the other side, some advocates of sleep training have also said teaching children to go to sleep on their own is critical to helping prevent later sleep problems. But this study found no significant long-term benefits of the behavioral techniques. About 9% of children in both the intervention and the control group had sleep problems at age 6.

   Earlier data from this study, and other research, have shown that the behavioral techniques do work and have clear short-term benefits: Babies go to sleep more quickly at bedtime and wake up less during the night. And infant sleep problems can lead to a whole host of family issues: They double the risk of depression symptoms in mothers and can fuel marital problems.

   “In the short-term, the infants and parents get more sleep,” said Judith A. Owens, the director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “A well-rested parent is going to be a better parent in the daytime.”

   The study followed 326 Australian children whose parents reported sleep problems when they were 7 months old. When the babies were between 8 and 10 months old, the parents of 173 children were taught the behavioral techniques during their regularly scheduled checkups. The rest weren’t offered the training.

   When the children were 6 years old, researchers administered various tests to assess emotional health, behavior, sleep issues and the quality of the parent-child relationship.

   Researchers found almost no difference on any of the measures between the children who had the sleep training as infants and those who didn’t.

…be sure to read my take on the debate…in my previous post…

………hugmamma.

say what?…eat…what???

Offal Tacos

From time to time I’ll post an article of interest from The Wall Street Journal. Well, this is one of those times. I couldn’t regurgitate it if I tried. And believe me…I don’t want to try.

You might be more the gourmand than moi. Read on…

Smalahove

Smalahove (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Offal Tale: For This Club, Everything Is on the Menu
In New York City, ‘Innard Circle’ Samples Wide Range of Fare; ‘Always Terrific
by Spencer Jakab

     You’ll never be a member of the Innard Circle if the likes of brains in black butter, Uzbek boiled spleen or Fujianese pig heart make you squirm.
     Since 1999, an intrepid band of New York City foodies has been meeting about once a month to indulge their penchant for “nose to tail eating” in a city that provides great opportunity to do so. The city’s thousands of ethnic restaurants are constantly refreshed by new waves of immigrants, many of whose cultures serve animal parts that most Americans wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot fork.
     For the organ-lovers though, what really gets their goat–or pig or sheep or rabbit–is when a restaurant is out of a delicacy they traveled across town to sample.
     “I mean really, who eats bull’s penis before 7:00 p.m.? complained Bobby Ghosh at a May meeting, recounting a recent trip to a northern Chinese restaurant in Queens.
     They had to settle for the animal’s somewhat chewy testicles and a dish on the menu called “Big Buckstraps Paddywack.” The waitress, who only spoke Mandarin, pointed energetically to her diaphragm when asked what they were eating. Mr. Ghosh said. That was as close as the group got to discerning what part of the animal it was.
     It was tough but tasty, they say.
     Mr. Ghosh, originally from Bengal in northeastern India, was Time Magazine‘s Baghdad bureau chief for five years and worked in Hong Kong–both places where he sampled a wide range of food. Always seeking variety, different types of meat began to taste more or less the same to him.
     “But a camel’s eyeball is way different from a goat’s eyeball,” he said.
     Digging in to a five-course meal of organ meats specially prepared for the group by Umbrian chef Sandro Fioriti at his Upper East Side eatery Sandro’s, journalist Daniel Okrent, one of the group’s founders, tries to explain what attracts him to innards.
     “Growing up, I was a very picky eater,” he said. But his wife Becky, a food critic and a member, introduced him to what’s known as the “fifth quarter” of the animal and he’s never looked back.
     “There’s no question there’s an element of showing off, but it’s great food,” he said, between bites of brain, kidney, intestines and sweetbreads with polenta.
     Though he has had many memorable meals with the group in New York–and who wouldn’t remember the likes of “crispy colorectal,” North Korean jellied tripe or a central Asian organ melange called “geez-beez”–he says the pinnacle of his offal-eating days came in the 1990’s during a trip to Italy. An old restaurant near Rome’s stockyards served him rigatoni alla pajata–the intestines of a freshly-slaughtered nursing calf still containing the curdled milk of its mother.
     “Does that gross you out?” asked Melissa Easton, an industrial designer and the group’s unofficial “organ”-izer.
     A shrug brings a nod of approval, as if having passed a squeamishness test. Many haven’t.
     “We’ve had people join us for a single meal and never come back, without explanation,” Ms. Easton said. “There’s a certain kind of discomfort that registers on their face when they realize what they’ve gotten into.”
     No wonder the late Calvin Schwabe’s 1979 book on Americans’ disdain for foods that he called “cheap, nutritious and good to eat” is titled

Cover of

Cover of Unmentionable Cuisine

Unmentionable Cuisine.” He chalked it up to “prejudice or ignorance.”
     It is no accident that the Innard Circle, which has about a dozen steady members, isn’t only a well-traveled group but, with journalists, authors and a book publisher, a well-read one too. After all, the most famous organ-eater of all time is the character Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s  novel Ulysses. Bloom “ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes.”
     Ms. Easton, like most members, struggles to come up with the oddest thing she has eatern because it all seems normal to her and usually delicious. The best thing she has had is seared calf liver sashimi at a Japanese place in the West Village.
     Jeannette Seaver, a publisher and author of four cookbooks, joined the group a decade ago because of her love for her native French food.
     “Our cuisine offers many succulent dishes made of innards, so it seemed right for me to be part of the group,” she says. “The food is daring, challenging at times, but always terrific.”
     The group, which is also known as Organ Grinders, finds plenty of humor in the foods. Fond of puns, the word “offal” is particularly ripe for abuse. The word’s English etymology speaks volumes about Anglo-Saxon disdain for organs. With origins in the 14th century, it is thought to refer to the “off-fall” from the butcher’s block, meaning the less desirable parts.
     Some members’ attraction to offal stems from their disdain for Western squeamishness and wastefulness.
     “This isn’t weird–it’s perfectly normal for lots of people around the world,” said criminologist Leonid Lantsman between mouthfuls of spicy duck tongue and braised goose intestine at a June meeting of the club at Chinatown eatery Rong Hang. “If more people ate entrails and offal then we wouldn’t waste so much food.”
     The seven-course meal began with duck kidney, before moving on to more hard-core offerings: beef large intestine in Fujianese red wine paste and pig stomach. The somewhat lighter frog’s legs and pig skin hot and sour soup followed and then gave way to a couple of exotic but non-organ offerings.
     “Watch out everyone–there’s no offal in this one!” joked Robert Sietsema, a food critic at the Village Voice, as a seafood dish was placed on the table.
     The one organ the group has yet to sample, despite it being a delicacy for some ethnic groups, is uterus.
     “I guess it’s more of a home-cooked thing,” said Ms. Easton.
     But she would eat it in a heartbeat.
     “Am I missing some part of my brain–the part that screams revulsion? Perhaps. In fact, very likely.”

 

Roast Pork and offal on rice AUD11.50 - City B...

Roast Pork and offal on rice AUD11.50 – City BBQ 鸿运 (Photo credit: avlxyz)

Now I ask you…aren’t you just going to rush right out and get yourself…some innards?

Growing up on the island of Maui, and being of Hawaiian descent, I did partake of ancestral foods at festive celebrations known as…luaus. At the time I was so caught up in the deliciousness of things our family did not regularly eat, largely owing to our near-impoverished status.  A greenish, pea soup looking dish was pretty tasty, until I learned it was made from pig’s intestines. Blood sausage…was just that. I never cottoned to it.

My mom, a native Hawaiian, drooled  over tripe stew, pig’s feet, turtle soup, taro patch snails, sea urchin…and who knows what else. I’m certain my father, of Chinese ancestry, had his peculiar tastes as well. Somehow their taste buds never made it down to me…their 9th child together.

…can’t say i’m sorry…that i feel i missed out or something…   😦

………hugmamma.

braggarts???

Mother-Teresa-collage

A very telling article appeared in today’s copy of the Wall Street Journal. It probably applies to all of us who weren’t created from the same mold as Mother Theresa.

While the writer has a point, it’s my humble opinion that we talk about ourselves as a means of ensuring our legacy. If not us, who? Ninety-nine percent of us will never do anything to see our names lit up on a Times Square marquee.

Broadway show billboards at the corner of 7th ...

Broadway show billboards at the corner of 7th Avenue and West 47th Street in Times Square in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A trait  we inherited from our prehistoric ancestors, storytelling is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a very good thing. And that we get to be the protagonists of our own stories…hey! everybody’s got a chance to be the star. So like I tell my daughter when she prepares for a performance, “Star in whatever role you’re dancing.”

Science Reveals Why We Brag So Much
by Robert Lee Hotz

     Talking about ourselves–whether in a personal conversation or through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter–triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money, researchers reported Monday.
     About 40% of everyday speech is devoted to telling others about what we feel or think. Now, through five brain imaging and behavioral experiments, Harvard University neuroscientists have uncovered the reason: It feels so rewarding, at the level of brain cells and synapses, that we can’t help sharing our thoughts.
     “Self-disclosure is extra rewarding,” said Harvard neuroscientist Diana Tamir, who conducted the experiments with Harvard colleague Jason Mitchell. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “People were even willing to forgo money in order to talk about themselves,” Ms. Tamir said.
     To assess people’s inclination for what the researchers call “self disclosure,” they conducted laboratory tests to see whether people placed an unusually high value on the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings. They also monitored brain activity among some volunteers to see what parts of the brain were most excited when people talked about themselves as opposed to other people. The dozens of volunteers were mostly Americans who lived near the university.
     In several tests, they offered the volunteers money if they chose to answer questions about other people, such as President Obama, rather than about themselves, paying out on a sliding scale of up to four cents. Questions involved casual matters such as whether someone enjoyed snowboarding or liked mushrooms on a pizza. Other queries involved personality traits, such as intelligence, curiosity or aggression.
     Despite the financial incentive, people often preferred to talk about themselves and willingly gave up between 17% and 25% of their potential earnings, so they could reveal personal information. “We joked that this was the penny for your thoughts study,” Ms. Tamir said.
     In related tests, the scientists used a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner, which tracks changes in blood flow between neurons associated with mental activity, to see what parts of the brain responded most strongly when people talked about their own beliefs and options, rather than speculating about other people.
     Generally, acts of self disclosure were accompanied by spurts of heightened activity in brain regions belonging to the meso-limbic dopamine system, which is associated with the sense of reward and satisfaction from food, money or sex.
     “It rings true to me,” said psychologist James Pennebaker at the University of Texas at Austin, who studies how people handle secrets and self-disclosure, but was not involved in the project. “We love it if other people listen to us. Why else would you tweet?”

I’ll bet Ms. Tamir and Mr. Mitchell smiled broadly when they saw their names in the Journal this morning. Instead of being buried in some musty scientific archive, their research results are national news. I cheer them, along with their colleagues, teachers, friends and family. After all, they’re only human…

…just like the rest of us…

 

………hugmamma.   😉

 

Twitter 6x6

Twitter 6×6 (Photo credit: Steve Woolf)

 

hold back the hand of time…can we?

It’s been a while since I’ve faithfully read The Wall Street Journal. When our previous subscription ended it seemed a blessing. No more stacks of unread papers. No feeling guilty that I’d not perused its contents for the latest news, or that money was being wasted. But after months of indecision we gave into subscribing, where before the subscription had been a gift from a former client of my husband’s.

Every so often an article catches my eye that seems of particular relevance, for whatever reason. In this instance it’s to do with getting older. Always an intriguing topic at this stage in my life, I thought it might appeal to some of you as well.

Elderly Klamath woman photographed by Edward S...

Image via Wikipedia

Cell Study Finds a Way to Slow Ravages of Age
by Shirley S. Wang

     Scientists may have found a way to put off some conditions of aging, according to a study in which they postponed or even prevented such afflictions as cataracts and wrinkle-inducing fat loss in mice by removing cells that had stopped dividing.
     Most young, healthy cells divide continuously in order to keep body tissues and organs functioning properly, but eventually stop splitting–a state called senescence–and are replaced by others. Senescence occurs throughout life, but people’s ability to clear such cells from their bodies decreases with age, leading to a buildup.
     Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., found for the first time that by using a drug to target and kill senescent cells, they could essentially freeze some aspects of the aging process.
     Though the research, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, is in its very early stages, it suggests that senescent-cell clearance could be one path to staying healthy while aging.
     “If you could clear senescent cells, you perhaps could treat age-related diseases as a group rather than individually,” said Jan van Deursen, senior author of the paper and a professor in the departments of biochemistry and pediatric and adolescent medicine at Mayo.
     The importance of cell senescence to the aging process has long been suspected. But the latest finding demonstrates definitively that these cells play a role in age-related conditions, according to Felipe Sierra, director of the division of aging biology at the National Institute on Aging, who wasn’t involved in the study.
     When cells become senescent, they produce harmful compounds such as those that cause inflammation. Chronic tissue inflammation with aging is thought to underlie dementia, atherosclerosis and diabetes, among other ills, according to James Kirkland, head of Mayo’s Center on Aging, who was also an author of the study.
     Senescent cells make up only a small portion of cells–some 5% or less–in the tissue of elderly people, but their effects can be widespread, the researchers said.
     Because senescence is believed to have developed as a defense against cancer, in which cells divide uncontrollably, simply halting the process could be dangerous.
     But scientists have wondered for decades if the damage inflicted by senescent cells could be stopped if they were removed from the body altogether, or if the harmful substances they produced were neutralized.
     In the study reported on Wednesday, the team used mice designed to age faster than normal and treated them with a drug that identifies cells that have stopped dividing. The drug then initiates the natural process that leads to cell death by puncturing the membranes of those cells alone.
     The researchers treated some mice over the course of their lifetimes and found a “quite dramatic delay” in the development of cataracts and age-related changes to muscle and fat, Dr. van Deursen said.
     In other mice, the compound was administered in old age. Clearance of senescent cells in those mice didn’t reverse the decline that had already occurred but prevented further deterioration.
     The drug appeared to clear out only senescent cells, not normal ones, and the animals didn’t appear to suffer any side effects, the researcher said.
     Extensive research is still necessary to test whether the clearance of senescent cells would have the same effect in mice that age normally and whether there are different effects in different tissues, such as the brain as compared with muscle tissue, said Dr. Sierra of the National Institute on Aging.
     Another question is whether continuous clearance of senescent cells is needed to produce health benefits, or whether intermittent removal–a spring cleaning of sorts–is just as effective, the study’s authors said.
     The work was funded by the Mayo Clinic, as well as several private foundations and philanthropists interested in promoting research into aging.

A lot of information to digest. But if you’re curious like me, there’s so much that’s intriguing about life from its inception to its demise, that I’m all ears and eyes when it comes to learning the intricacies of our bodies and what makes them tick. And sometimes, we can garner a tip or two about enhancing the quality of our lives…

Portrait of old woman sitting by a window.

Image via Wikipedia

…while the clock continues to…tick-tock…tick-tock…

………hugmamma.  

daily post challenge #271: nominee for the peace prize?

I would award the peace prize to whomever it is who could effect a truce between the political warring factions in our country. I’m sure many Americans agree it’s as though we’re caught up in another Civil War. Let’s hope it doesn’t erupt into violence and bloodshed. No matter the appearance of a civilized society, beneath the facade we are still given to primal instincts…the survival of me and mine.

Engraving of Daniel Boone, with autograph at b...

Image via Wikipedia

Joe Queenan recently wrote in his Wall Street Journal article “Who’s Our Daniel Boone or Joan of Arc?”

IN TIMES OF CRISIS, great nations have always turned to folk heroes, be it Samson, Robin Hood, Joan of Arc or William Tell.
     Well, America is certainly in a time of crisis, and a bona fide folk hero would be handy just now. At a moment when the president is perceived to be unfocused and ineffectual, both houses of Congress are universally despised, our business leaders are mistrusted and loathed, and our cultural icons are invisible or clownish, we could really use a Davy Crockett, an Annie Oakley, a Johnny Appleseed, a John Henry
.

I would add that factions in our midst, among them…tea partiers, states instituting laws against illegal immigrants, politicians inflaming religious zealots, financial institutions filling their coffers, and even those protesting against the top wealthy 1%…are unwittingly pulling our society apart at the seams. So while Queenan would like someone…anyone…to lead us back from the brink…

If the closest we can get to a real live folk hero today is a Betty White or a George Foreman, that’s good enough for me. Frankly, things being the way they are today, I’d settle for the guy in the Ford commercial. I’d settle for Cher. I’d settle for Charlie Sheen. I’d settle for somebody masquerading as Betty Crocker. Any port in a storm. And believe me, this is a storm.

Nelson Mandela.

Image via Wikipedia

…i’d prefer…a mandela…a buddha…a moses…a solomon…a jesus…a peacemaker…not a folk hero…

………hugmamma.  

public enemy #1..obama?

As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve a stack of articles cut from the Wall Street Journal which I’d wanted to share, eventually. Upon review, I toss those that are no longer relevant. You can imagine my surprise when I came across the following from 2/14/11, which begs the question “In light of recent events, what say you now?” And I mean specifically as it pertains to President Obama’s loyalty to America?

Obama Isn’t Trying to ‘Weaken America”
by Michael Medved

Some conservatory commentators may feel inclined to spend President’s Day ruminating over Barack Obama’s evil intentions, or denouncing the chief executive as an alien interloper and ideologue perversely determined to damage the republic. Instead, they should consider the history of John Adam’s White House prayer and develop a more effective focus for their criticism.

Oil painting of John Adams by John Trumbull.

Image via Wikipedia

On Nov. 2, 1800, a day after he became the first president to occupy the newly constructed executive mansion, Adams wrote to his wife Abigail: “I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”

More than a century later, Franklin Roosevelt ordered the inscription of these words on a mantel piece in the State Dining Room, inviting serious consideration over the extent to which divine providence responded to the earnest entreaty of our second president.

In terms of wisdom, some of Adam’s successors who “ruled” under the White House roof most certainly fell short. James Buchanan comes to mind–or Jimmy Carter.

When it comes to honesty, skeptics might also cite heaven’s mixed blessings, reviewing a long history of presidential prevarication. Richard Nixon almost certainly lied about Watergate, as did Bill Clinton about his amorous adventures.

But in the deeper sense that Adams longed for “honest men” to occupy the White House, the nation has fared much better: Those who rose to the highest office worked hard, took their responsibilities seriously, and sincerely pursued the nation’s good–in order, if nothing else, to secure a positive verdict on their own place in history.

Even the most corruption-tarred presidents, Ulysses S. Grant and Warren G. Harding, agonized over the demands of the office and drew scant personal benefit from the scandals involving unworthy associates. They both retained the profound affection of the populace while they lived and drew massive outpourings of grief at their funerals. Both (especially Grant) have begun a recent rise in the estimation of historians.

President John F. Kennedy and daughter Carolin...

John F. Kennedy may have suffered from sex addiction (and a host of other secret maladies) while Franklin Pierce drank heavily in the White House (in part in mourning for his 11-year-old son who died before his eyes in a train accident two months before the inauguration). But neither man ignored his duties, and both had previously demonstrated their love of country with courageous military service.

In short, the White House record of more than 200 years shows plenty of bad decisions but no bad men. For all their foibles, every president attempted to rise to the challenges of leadership and never displayed disloyal or treasonous intent.

This history makes some of the current charges about Barack Obama especially distasteful–and destructive to the conservative cause.

One typical column appeared on Feb. 5 at the well-regarded American Thinker website, under the heading: “Obama Well Knows What Chaos He Has Unleashed.” Victor Sharpe solemnly declares: “My fear is that Obama is not naive at all, but he instead knows only too well what he is doing, for he is eagerly promoting Islamic power in the world while diminishing the West.”

These attitudes thrive well beyond the blogosphere and the right-wing fringe. On Jan. 7, Sarah Palin spoke briefly on Laura Ingraham’s radio show, saying, “What I believe that Obama is doing right now–he is hell-bent on weakening America.” While acknowledging that “it’s gonna get some people all wee-weed up again,” she repeated and amplified her charge that “what Obama is doing” is “purposefully weakening America–because he understood that debt weakened America, domestically and internationally, and yet now he supports increasing debt.”

Cover of

Cover of The Roots of Obama's Rage

The assumption that the president intends to harm or destroy the nation that elected him has become so widespread that the chief advertising pitch for Dinesh D’Souza’s best-selling book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” promises to “reveal Obama for who he really is: a man driven by the anti-colonial ideology of his father and the first American president to actually seek to reduce America’s strength, influence and standard of living.”

None of the attacks on Mr. Obama’s intentions offers an even vaguely plausible explanation of how the evil genius, once he has ruined our “strength, influence and standard of living,” hopes to get himself re-elected. In a sense, the president’s most paranoid critics pay him a perverse compliment in maintaining that his idealism burns with such pure, all-consuming heat that he remains blissfully unconcerned with minor matters like his electoral future. They label Mr. Obama as the political equivalent of a suicide bomber: so overcome with hatred (or “rage”) that he’s perfectly willing to blow himself up in order to inflict casualties on a society he loathes.

On his radio show last July 2, the most influential conservative commentator of them all reaffirmed his frequent charge that the president seeks economic suffering “on purpose.” Rush Limbaugh explained: “I think we face something we’ve never faced before in the country–and that is, we’re now governed by people who do not like the country.” In his view, this hostility to the United States relates to a grudge connected to Mr. Obama’s black identity. “There’s no question that payback is what this administration is all about, presiding over the decline of the United States of America, and doing so happily.”

Regardless of the questionable pop psychology of this analysis, as a political strategy it qualifies as almost perfectly imbecilic. Republicans already face a formidable challenge in convincing a closely divided electorate that the president pursues wrong-headed policies. They will never succeed in arguing that those initiatives have been cunningly and purposefully designed to wound the republic. In Mr. Obama’s case, it’s particularly unhelpful to focus on alleged bad intentions and rotten character when every survey shows more favorable views of his personality than his policies.

Moreover, the current insistence in seeing every misstep or setback by the Obama administration as part of a diabolical master plan for national destruction disregards the powerful reverence for the White House that’s been part of our national character for two centuries.

Even in times of panic and distress we hope the Almighty has answered John Adam’s prayer. Americans may not see a given president as their advocate, but they’re hardly disposed to view him as their enemy–and a furtive, determined enemy at that. For 2012, Republicans face a daunting challenge in running against the president. That challenge becomes impossible if they’re also perceived as running against the presidency.

(Mr. Medved hosts a daily, nationally syndicated radio-show and is the author of “The 5 Big Lies About American Business” – recently out in paperback by Three Rivers Press.)

A couple of things come to mind in reading this article. One is that Palin speaks plain, but she doesn’t make sense in an arena larger than the bubble in which she moves. Secondly, I think she and Limbaugh are two of the cleverest people around. Why would they ever change their platforms when they have a following for which Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Beyonce would sing their hearts out. Even sweeter, Palin and Limbaugh are laughing all the way to the bank. Why should these two give up the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg? They aren’t dummies!

One final observation is that while conservatives like Palin and Limbaugh abhor Obama personally and politically, there are liberals who abhor him just as much because he’s not annihilating those same conservatives. I’ve seen extreme-left blogs whose writers have turned their backs on the man they elected, because he hasn’t stampeded over anyone getting in his way to effect all that he promised. It seems Obama shouldn’t spare the sword, and  he should definitely take no prisoners. Off with their heads!

I know of no person in a relationship, any relationship worth its weight in gold, who doesn’t believe in compromise. Why is that so impossible in politics? In the current environment it feels as though the populace is neither conservative nor liberal, but rather we are either venutians or martians. We look different. We act different. We don’t even speak the same language. Sadly enough, it may be that Barack Obama has been the catalyst to this unearthly event…a black man…a muslim name……………………….      no right to be America’s president.

sad…but maybe too true…hugmamma.  

in the aftermath…#4

6 World Trade Center

Image via Wikipedia

This, the final post in the series, speaks directly to how Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda came to undermine their own efforts in waging war against America. They like others who use their own people as pawns to acquire what they desire, at any expense, proverbially “shot themselves in the foot” and “cut off their noses to spite their faces.” How is it that many with power feel they can forever hold an axe to their victims’ necks, without realizing the possibility, however slim, that the axe will ricochet cutting off the head of the one wielding it? I think working at long-term compromise to satisfy everyone’s needs is truly better for everyone’s health, welfare… and survival. Easier said than done…but worth a try. Better than the alternative…don’t you think? 

The Slaughter That Muslims Could Not Ignore
by Reuel Marc Gerecht

Like all fundamentalists, Osama bin Laden was attuned to the past. When his speeches weren’t about the economic decline of America, they recalled Islam’s classical age, especially the rise of the Prophet Muhammad through the Rashidun (“rightly-guided”) period, which ended in 661.

Bin Laden saw himself as an Islamic Martin Luther: a protestant who was willing to go to war with the Muslim world‘s Westernized, U.S.-aided kings and presidents-for-life. He hoped to arouse, by the strength of his example, a global movement that would drive the U.S., the cutting edge of the West, out of the Muslim world. Showing American feebleness would bring the inevitable collapse of the unrighteous and the restoration of a more virtuous age.

He sustained himself for so long in the Middle East and Central Asia because lots of Muslims–especially in powerful places in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan–were sympathetic to his cause. For a time, he tapped into an angry, shameful intellectual current among Muslims, who after World War II were increasingly immiserated by their ever more lawless rulers. 

The Westernized police-states (Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya) and the corrupt “Playboy” monarchies (Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Emirates, Jordan and Morocco) all became breeding grounds for violent fundamentalism. And even among most Muslims, who did not drink deeply of this creed, the spiritual depression and conspiracy-mongering of these societies made bin Laden an admired celebrity, if not a hero, since he at least scared and hurt the all-powerful United States and openly belittled the detested autocrats.

Muhammad: The Last Prophet

Image via Wikipedia

Historically, Islamic societies have had a fairly high tolerance for the use of violence for a just cause. Bin Laden knew well the line of thought that sees rebellion against unjust rulers as a moral obligation. This was a defining theme of early Islamic history, when Muslims as a community wrestled with what constituted legitimate authority after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

Among the Arabs, Princeton’s Michael Cook has written, “political and military participation were very widely spread, far more so than in the mainstream of human societies–whether those of the steppe nomads, the later Islamic world, or the modern West. It was the fusion of this egalitarian and activist tribal ethos with the monotheist tradition that gave Islam its distinctive political character. In no other civilization was rebellion for conscience sake so widespread as it was in the early centuries of Islamic history; no other major religious tradition has lent itself to revival as a political ideology–and not just a political identity–in the modern world.”

Twin Towers, New York

Image by Guillaume Cattiaux via Flickr

Bin Laden, who believed that only the most virtuous had the right to rule over the community, was undone by his love of violence. He pushed it too far: Slaughtering innocent Africans in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 was tolerable since the targets were American embassies (and black Muslim Africans were too far from the Arab world to compel a scathing moral critique). Killing American sailors on the USS Cole in the port of Aden was praiseworthy since no modern Muslim power had ever so humbled an American man-of-war. And destroying the Twin Towers and punching a hole in the Pentagon was just astonishing.

But then came the slaughter that could not be ignored, as al Qaeda affiliates started killing in Muslim lands. The suicide bombers who hit Casablanca in 2003 and Amman in 2005 made an impact. But the war in Iraq was bin Laden’s great moral undoing.

Iraq was supposed to be where al Qaeda and other “good Muslims” broke the American back. Instead the carnage there, carried in all its gore by Arabic satellite channels, produced a backlash. There was a limit to the number of Shiite women and children that Sunni Arabs could see murdered. Blowing up hospitals, mosques and shrines–even Shiite ones–became too ghastly to sublimate into an acceptable war against the Americans.

Al Qaeda had helped to provoke one of the worst bloodlettings in contemporary Arab history. Voices within Islam began to rise against its ruthlessness. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s intellectual, knew that his kind had gone too far but there was little that he or bin Laden could do once the jihadist beast had been let loose.

In Iraq, al Qaeda effectively became a takfiri movement: Holy warriors “legitimately” slaughtered other Muslims because they deemed them no longer Muslim but kuffar, infidels, who may be killed in conflict. Bloody takfiri movements can outlast one inspirational leader, but they never win.

It’s entirely possible that if the Taliban win in Afghanistan, al Qaeda could get a new lease on life. The Pakistani and Afghan Taliban movements have absorbed much of the ideology that ignited al Qaeda in the early 1990s. The operational support–free passage and refuge–that Iran gave to al Qaeda before and after 9/11 is probably still there if al Qaeda can organize itself into an effective strike force, especially against Saudi Arabia. And Zawahiri has long been Tehran’s favorite Sunni holy warrior. He certainly has the ability and perhaps the means to maintain al Qaeda’s global networks.

Libyan community protest in Dublin (3)

Image by Tom Szustek via Flickr

But networks must be nourished. If this spring’s great Arab Revolt continues–if the brutalized societies of the Middle East can establish more lawful, representative governments, if their ethics can recover from the years of powerlessness, shame and conspiracy–then al Qaeda will surely lose its future among the Arabs.

It may raise its head now and then. If it could get its hands on the right type of weapons and the deranged young men to use them, it could still kill on an impressive scale. But the group will most likely wither, perhaps rapidly, as Sunni Arabs construct a moral universe in which militants cn no longer compellingly call upon Islamic history to justify rebellion. Bin Laden understandably loathed democracy: It’s the end of the political and ethical order where his world makes sense.

(Mr. Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is the author of “The Wave: Man, God and the Ballot Box in the Middle East”-Hoover, 2011.)

in the aftermath…#3

The following is from the perspective of an American Muslim, someone who straddles 2 worlds, seemingly able to opine both sides of the argument. It’s an opinion I’d not really come across before, and thought it worth sharing. The author imparts “insider” information which helped me to understand a little better how his countrymen think. I fear we Americans often fail to accept that citizens of other cultures might have differing world views which are as valid as our own. Then again I think most people tend to see things one way…their own. That’s human nature, unfortunately. This need not be carved in stone, however, if we keep an open mind.

Osama Bin Laden, Weak Horse
by Fouad Ajami

The trail had grown cold, but the case for justice had never gone away. Osama bin Laden had warred against the United States, he had called on every Muslim “by God’s will to kill the Americans and plunder their possessions wherever he finds them and whenever he can.” He had erased the boundary in the laws of war between combatants and civilians, and he had set out the case that the age-old ailments of a deeply troubled Islamic civilization could be laid at America’s doorstep.

He and his top lieutenant and partner, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, had made sure that America would be caught in the crosshairs of a deadly civil war between their foot soldiers of terror and the Arab regimes in the saddle. The “near enemy” they dubbed the incumbents in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world. The “far enemy” was the name they gave the U.S. It was halal, it was permissible, to war against the far enemy, to exploit its freedoms, in a campaign of vengeance against these regimes and the Pax Americans said to sustain them.

There was plenty of victimhood and rage in Arab and Muslim life, and this man of checkered background–Saudi citizenship, Yemeni ancestry on his father’s side, a Syrian mother–found his themes as he went along. There was his mastery of lyrical Arabic, and it played to the gullible. There was the legend on offer of the man born to wealth but giving it all up in pursuit of a holy cause. In his run, his decade if you will, Arab political and cultural life was a scorched earth–terrible, plundering regimes, disaffected and sullen populations trapped in no-man’s land, the absence of any hope of economic and political improvement. Some 300 million or so Arabs seemed cut off from history’s progress.

Bin Laden and Zawahiri had little to offer that world, but what they presented, it must be conceded, had its appeals. There were media spectaculars, attacks against American embassies and battleships and military housing compounds. There was the sheer satisfaction of seeing the mighty get their comeuppance.

From perfectly educated and otherwise normal folks in Arab and Muslim cities could be heard echoes of bin Laden’s sentiments, sly insinuations that the man was an avenger for the slights suffered by Arabs and Muslims in modern life. For a perilous moment, when Osama bin Laden held spellbound the audience of the television channel Al Jazeera, there was a rancid wind at play in Islamic lands. Even with the terror of 9/11, when soot and ruin hit American soil, there could be seen that deadly mix of moral indifference and satisfaction in Arab Muslim places. Bin Laden had sold a cult of power. When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse, he had famously opined.

But American power held steady in the Islamic world. We did not cede that vast region to the jihadists and their enablers. We were not brilliant in every campaign. We did not fully know our enemies and their cunning. We were not always at home in the tricks of the dictators and the hustlers in that vast arc of trouble in the Greater Middle East, but we held the line when it truly mattered.

State of Al Qaeda in Iraq

Image via Wikipedia

In Afghanistan and Iraq we fought back, we even put on the ground–in the face of all kind of obstacles–a reasonably successful democratic experiment in Iraq. Bin Laden and his ilk (not to mention some neighboring powers) had done their best to thwart the Iraqi project, but the experiment had survived. And al Qaeda was to be rebuffed in Iraq by the very Sunnis it had presumably come to rescue. Bin Laden’s bet had failed: There would be no hasty American retreats a la Beirut and Mogadishu. We had awakened to the connection between Arab pathologies and our own security here at home.

In the decade that separates us from 9/11, the bin Laden legend dimmed. The tapes he sent were “proof of life” and little else. Arabs began to reconsider their place in the world, and that grotesque disfiguring of a religious tradition, the cult of martyrdom, lost its luster. There was no way back to the Islamic caliphate.

It was bin Laden’s deserved fate to be struck down when an entirely different Arab world was struggling to be born. The Arab Spring is a repudiation of everything Osama bin Laden preached and stood for. If al Qaeda found an appropriate burial ground, the place must be Midan al-Tahrir, Liberation Square, in Cairo. Of all Arab lands, Egypt is the biggest, the most culturally evolved polity, the one with perhaps the most acute economic and demographic crisis. This was Zawahiri’s birthplace and a special target of the jihadists–claim this realm and you will have upended the entire balance in the region.

Yet no one in Liberation Square paid heed to bin Laden and Zawahiri, no one chanted “Death to America.” They had, in their own peaceful way, settled their account with the dictator and signaled their desire for a free, modern society. The drums of anti-Americanism, steady during the Mubarak years, came to a halt.

Men and women came together to bid for a New Egypt, to reclaim their country. No gaze was fixed on the Hindu Kush guessing as to the whereabouts of the remnants of al Qaeda fighters and their wives and children. To the extent that ideologies could be dead and over with, the ideological challenge of al Qaeda is a spent force. “Affiliates” of al Qaeda will survive in Yemen and North Africa, but they will be a nuisance, a matter for police and security services.

The Syrian Revolution 2011 الثورة السورية ضد ب...

Image by Kurdistan KURD كوردستان كردستان ا via Flickr

The Arab Spring has simply overwhelmed the world of the jihadists. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria, younger people–hurled into politics by the economic and political failures all around them–are attempting to create a new political framework, to see if a way could be found out of the wreckage that the authoritarian states have bequeathed them. It is a risky thing to say, but Arabs appear to have wearied of violence. I hazard to guess bin Laden’s fate was of no interest to the people in the sorrowful town of Deraa enduring the cruelty of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and his death squads.

al-qaeda territory

Image by chrisdebruyn via Flickr

When our remarkable soldiers gave him a choice, Osama bin Laden gave them a fight. Fittingly, he was not in a cave. He had grown up in the urban world of Jeddah, and he was struck down in a perfectly urban setting, a stone’s throw from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, in odd proximity to a military academy, in a visible and large compound. He had outlived his time and use, and doubtless Pakistani intelligence was now willing to cast him adrift.

A savvy American official once observed that Pakistani’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, must have an “office of hedging your bets.” A generation ago, South Asia made room for the Saudi plotter and financier. He had money, and the aura of the Arabian Peninsula, the land of Islamic revelation. Now all that was of the past.

(Mr. Ajami is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is co-chair of the Hoover Working Group on Islamism and the International Order. …Wall Street Journal, 5/3/11)

in the aftermath…#1

President Obama confirms death of Osama bin Laden

Just as the media was rife with coverage of the royal wedding, so now the spinmeisters are  squeezing every last bit of life out of the latest news, Osama bin Laden’s demise. All the details have been revealed and recycled ad nauseum. So too have the endless probing questions put forth by the journalists. It’s made me realize that they’re just doing their jobs, as we all are, prince and princesses, presidents, housewives, reporters. So rather than regurgitate the known facts, I prefer to share some insightful opinions from different perspectives.

Obama’s Finest Hour
by Bret Stephens

There was only one discordant note in Barack Obama’s otherwise masterly speech Sunday night announcing the killing of Osama bin Laden. It came when the president invoked the word “justice” to describe what had just been done to the architect of 9/11.

It wasn’t quite the word he was looking for. But actions speak louder than words.

Justice as we in the West have come to know it, requires due process. It takes place in a courtroom under the supervision of a judge. Prosecutors must prove their case; defendants are entitled to a competent defense; rules of evidence and procedure must scrupulously be followed. A jury must render its verdict. Punishment can be neither cruel nor unusual.

Khalid_Sheikh_Mohammed

Image via Wikipedia

This is the sort of justice the hapless Attorney General Eric Holder had in mind when he sought to have bin Laden’s operational lieutenant, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, tried in a civilian Manhattan courthouse. The people of New York City revolted. KSM will now get better than he deserves in a military tribunal.

As for bin Laden, what was meted out to him was vengeance. Vengeance pure and simple, sweet and sound. Vengeance cathartic, uplifting, necessary and right. Got a problem with that?

I don’t. Nor did the people who poured into the streets Sunday night to cheer outside the White House, or the crowd I saw Monday morning as I walked the perimeter of Ground Zero.

“Why does everyone root for the avenger in feature films?” asks my friend Thane Rosenbaum, who teaches law at Fordham and is writing a book about revenge. “Is it because people are immoral in the dark, or is it because we all realize that the avenger’s quest and duty is righteous and true?”

Thane’s point isn’t that vengeance is better than justice. It’s that there can be no true justice without vengeance. Oddly enough, this is something Barack Obama, Chicago liberal, seems to better grasp than George W. Bush, Texas cowboy.

The former president was fond of dilating on the point, as he put it just after 9/11, that “ours is a nation that does not seek revenge, but we do seek justice.” What on Earth did that mean? Of course we sought revenge. “Ridding the world of evil,” Mr. Bush’s other oft-stated ambition, was nonsense if we didn’t make a credible go of ridding the world of the very specific evil named Osama bin Laden.

For all of Mr. Bush’s successes–and yes, there were a few, including the vengeance served that other specific evil known as Saddam Hussein and those Gitmo interrogations that yielded bin Laden’s location–you can trace the decline of his presidency from the moment he said, in March 2002, that “I really don’t care (where bin Laden is). It’s not that important.

Outside of White House after death of Osama bi...

Wrong. It was of the essence. Americans didn’t merely want to be secured against another attack–an achievement experienced only in the absence of fresh outrages and appreciated only in hindsight. Americans wanted vengeance. It’s what they had wanted after Pearl Harbor, too: what took the Marines up Mt. Suribach, the Rangers up Point du Hoc. Revenge is a glue that holds a fractious nation together in the service of a great and arduous cause.

Mr. Obama, for all his talk of justice, understands this. Or, in the education that is the presidency, he has come to understand it. Maybe it’s true, as his critics allege, that his steady focus on finding bin Laden was done for the sake of declaring victory in the war on terror so that he could start rolling up America’s commitments in Afghanistan. If this is his “Mission Accomplished” moment, he will come to regret it.

But I doubt Mr. Obama is that dumb. Nor is there any reason not to take him at his word when he said Sunday that bin Laden’s death “does not mark the end of our effort.” Osama is dead; his franchisees carry on. Count on a self-styled bin Laden Martyrs’ Brigade to take credit for whatever terrorist atrocity comes next.

But even if it does, it will lack the sinister potency of previous attacks. The air of mystery that sustained al Quaeda all the way through Sunday night has finally been laid bare, and it looks like an ugly house that can be located in seconds on Google Maps.

Here is something that Mr. Obama, more than most Western leaders, deeply understands: Symbolism matters. It matters that the ultimate symbol of Islamist rage did not wear a ring of invisibility. It matters that he was taken out not by a laser-guided bomb, but by American fighting men whose names we may someday know. It matters that the story of 9/11 has been brought full circle, even as the fight against terrorists carries on.

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

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There’s been a whiff of sour grapes in some of the right-wing commentary about the president’s speech. Too much emphasis on the first-person pronoun, not enough credit to President Bush, and so on. It’s unbecoming. If ever there was a doubt about just how American Mr. Obama is, Sunday’s raid eliminates it better than any long-form birth certificate. This was his finest hour. It’s for the rest of us, avenged at long last, to rejoice.

(Write to bstephens@wsj.com)

 

honeymoon alone?…why not?

Absolutely loved this Traveler’s Tale by Jennifer Belle which appeared some time ago in the Wall Street Journal. How many new brides would go for the gusto and forge ahead with her honeymoon plans…alone? I don’t know that I’d have had the courage 40 some odd years ago. But then that was a different time, and I was an island girl. That’s my excuse for everything. Truth be told, I’m just a scaredy cat, always have been, always will be. My daughter’s a little more adventurous, in fact a lot more adventurous. She drives on freeways in any state without white-knuckled fear. Me? I’m still meandering back-roads, even in my hometown of 14 years. Now you know why this young Mrs. had me chuckling…and envious of her unbelievable hutzpah!

My Perfect Honeymoon
(That I Spent Alone)

Children's Valentine in somewhat questionable ...

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My husband and I met at a Valentine’s party, got in an agitating fight the next day and then became inseparable–that is, until our honeymoon.

Walking out the door to go to the airport, my husband went to get his passport from his desk. It was missing. I called our housekeeper but she hadn’t seen it. We searched the apartment. I called the Terrorist Investigation Unit of the FBI to report it stolen by the carpet cleaner. “We can’t go,” my husband said.

But my passport wasn’t missing. I had wedding money and an airplane ticket. So while he stayed home and called his mother to see if she had his birth certificate and made desperate plans to join me as soon as possible, I flew to Venice.

Gondolas in Venice

 

I took a water taxi to my hotel and the driver, a gorgeous man named Davide, insisted I take command of the boat, although I explained that I was from New York and didn’t even know how to drive a car. “I teach you,” he said and sort of slapped my butt and also touched my stomach while shifting gears. He gave me his number on a scrap of paper.

“I’m married,” I said for the first time. “I’m on my honeymoon.” He thought this was very charming and American and pretended to look overboard in the murky brown water for a groom. “Call me,” he said.

Harry's Bar interior. Venice Italy.

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At the Hotel La Fenice et des Artistes, beside the burned-down opera house, I checked into the honeymoon suite. I had cannelloni and bellinis at Harry’s Bar on Calle Vallaresso, and stopped to listen to, of all things, Hava Nagila, played by a band in San Marco. The next day I bought five hand-tooled leather journals from a bookbinder named Ustino and began writing in one of them at Locanda Cipriani, a restaurant in a quince orchard on a tiny island called Torcello. I ordered cannelloni again and wrote, “I’m eating cannelloni all aloni.” I wandered that night over bridges and bought a silk jacket with rats painted on it for $500.

Channel in Burano, Venice, Italy

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The next day I got my period on the island of Burano and found one drugstore among all the lace shops. There was so much lace everywhere, when I opened the new box of Tampax, I was surprised they weren’t lace too. I had dinner that night at Vino Vino on Calle de la Rotonda where you order from three dishes at the counter. It would have been perfect except for the waitress ignoring me during my lemon cake–and oh yeah, I remembered, my husband not being there.

Gondolas in a canal in Venice, Italy

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Waiting for him, I took gondola rides and drank wine with beautiful men. I soaked my feet in the bidet, listening on the phone to my husband complain about how he’d taken Metro-North to the county clerk’s office in White Plains to get his birth certificate. I went to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Accademia, lounged on my king-sized bed, got chocolate on my trousseau. “Your honeymoon, she is ruined!” the hotel clerk fretted. But she was perfect.

Honeymooning alone, I discovered what it was to be married. I experienced it more fully, had a chance to get used to it. Without him there to interfere, I could be my most romantic. We were star-crossed; he was struggling to get to me. Every bride should be alone after the stress of a wedding. I felt sorry for anyone with a groom to deal with. “Husband is my favorite word,” I wrote in my hand-bound diary. Believe me–I have never written anything like that since.

Four days after my arrival at Marco Polo airport I went back to pick up my husband. He turned out to be allergic to Venice and couldn’t stop sneezing, so we went on to Rome and then the Amalfi Coast.

Almalfi Coast (10/10/2007)

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When we got home our housekeeper brought me the slim Citibank check box from the desk and opened it proudly to reveal the safe place she’d hidden my husband’s passport. I’d moved that box a hundred times during my search, but hadn’t thought to look inside.

The scrap of paper with Davide’s phone number on it is still on my refrigerator. In case I ever want a second honeymoon.

(Ms. Belle’s novels include “High Maintenance” and “The Seven Year Bitch.” She remains happily married.)

my kind of woman…for sure…hugmamma. 😉

justin bieber…huckabee rival?

Image representing Mark Zuckerberg as depicted...

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Adults are apt to dismiss the young members of society as not having anything of substance to contribute. But I think that’s definitely changing. No longer can we admonish them with “children should be seen and not heard,” as was the golden rule in my younger years. Not that those approaching middle-age were ready to relinquish power without a fight. It’s more that upstarts like Bill Gates and Paul Allen at the tender ages of 13 and 15, respectively, began turning our world on its ear when they sought to create what became a global power, Microsoft. Others followed in time, Google founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and Facebook’s creator, Mark Zuckerberg. These of course are the more prominent among the brainiacs of their generations. I think it’s safe to say these young men who were probably considered “still wet behind the ears” by their elders, grabbed the world’s attention, never letting go.

I personally have witnessed the power of those younger than me. My 25-year-old daughter continually teaches me about life, its radical highs and lows, as well as its moments of calm and serenity. The tables have turned, where I taught her, she now teaches me. Although sometimes I wonder if she hasn’t been giving me lessons all along, ever since she was a babe in my womb.

As I’ve made my way through this, at times overwhelming, internet adventure, 20-year-olds have reached out to help me. Blogger Scriptor Obscura was the first to regularly “like” my posts and leave comments. More recently, author B.C. Young agreed to be interviewed about self-publishing, sharing insight into an area that’s still evolving. In turn he invited me to share a fictional piece of my own on his blog, introducing me to his readers. More than anything this young man gave this senior writer a “hand up.”

Thanks for giving me my first break, Ben. It’s heartwarming to know that there are published writers, like yourself, who will give a hand up to those of us still struggling to have our words read in printed form.

“mahalo”…thank you…millie aka hugmamma.

Yesterday when I volunteered at the office of the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association, Trevor Barnes, the assistant director, shared encouraging words of support when I expressed doubt that I even belonged among such an elite company of published writers, as per the bios I viewed on PNWA’s website. Trevor assured me that there were thousands of members like me, just looking to write something that would someday be published and read. I left the office with hope. And I got that from someone in his 20s.

One Less Lonely Girl

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So when I saw the following I felt inclined to share it. Why? Because quite simply I was shocked to learn that the young pop idol, Justin Bieber, had something going on under his blonde, mop of hair, than just hip-hop lyrics. I think you’ll be as astonished as I was.

“Go Ahead, America, Leave It to Bieber”
by Joe Queenan (Wall Street Journal, 2/26/11)

Justin Bieber got slammed good last week when he opened his yap about abortion in Rolling Stone. Some people objected to his views, others scorched him for the way he phrased them, still others questioned the very notion of a 16-year-old boy offering his opinion on any serious moral, political or legal question.

Susan Sarandon at the premiere of Speed Racer ...

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The apoplectic response to Mr. Bieber’s comments is not fair. As of Tuesday, when he will be exactly one year short of the age when he can legally vote, drink or kill Taliban, the diminutive Canadian has every right to express himself on any issue he feels passionately about. The idea that youth somehow disqualifies him from speaking out on issues is the very thing young people–now grumpy old Bieber-Bashing Baby Boomers–fought against in the 1960s. After all, Justin Bieber is at least as smart as Susan Sarandon.

But the worst thing about all the Rolling Stone kerfuffle is that it has drawn attention away from other opinions Mr. Bieber has offered on major issues of the day. And in his clear, articulate, reasoned analysis of these issues, Mr. Bieber has shown himself to be that rarest of creatures: the precocious youth whose opinions must be heeded.

It’s Mr. Bieber, for example, who was the first person to warn that spiraling commodity prices would lead to unrest in Bahrain and Yemen. Interviewed by the BBC in January, he said: “Once you see that disconnect between pork belly futures and 30-day wheat, look out! When food prices spike–and this goes all the way back to the days when Mark Antony had to import grain from Egypt–there is no way to put a cap on civil unrest back home. Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, maybe even Iran. It’s the domino effect.”

Mr. Bieber’s comments did not go down well in the futures markets, where copper and tin immediately tanked. Who died and left this punk in charge? Why should anyone care what a celebrity of any age, gender or height cares about anything important? Don’t you have to be at least as old and gray as George Clooney before anyone starts taking you seriously?

Gaga on The Monster Ball Tour in Toronto

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Generally speaking, this anticelebrity bias is justifiable. Sean Penn is an idiot, Madonna a dope, Christina Aguilera a nitwit. Lady Gaga never says anything that isn’t stupid, obvious or self-serving, and Martin Sheen should have spent less time protesting in the streets and more time in the home parenting. As for Bono, who definitely seems like a sincere, well-meaning sort, exactly how much wisdom can one impute to a man who wrote the music for the Spider-Man musical?

But in Mr. Bieber’s case, the animosity and condescension are not jusfified. Mr. Bieber, after all, was the first person–not the first celebrity, but the first personto warn that Ireland’s economy would implode because of a bloated real-estate market. More recently, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he was way ahead of the curve when he suggested that cash-strapped states like Illinois and California should simply threaten to default on their debt if it was the only way to get unions to come to the negotiating table.

“Trash the muni market and you’ll see unions fold like a cheap accordion,” he says, “Just look at the yield curve.”

Not everything Mr. Bieber says is astute or prescient. He was wrong when he told a Japanese TV reporter that 3-D TV would take off last Christmas, and he seriously underestimated the ability of Apple’s competitors to respond to the appeal of the iPad. His forecast of a 4.5% GDP growth rate for the U.S. economy in the fourth quarter was way off base. What’s more, he has a lamentable tendency to express his views on topics where he has no expertise whatsoever; whether the Knicks gave up too much to sign Carmelo Anthony, whether learning a second language can help stave off Alzheimer’s, why the next pope should come from Bolivia. But for every target he misses, he hits at least one bull’s eye. And when he speaks out on issues that pertain to the world of music, he is wise beyond his years.

Mike Huckabee's band at the Lincoln Day Dinner...

Image by IowaPolitics.com via Flickr

“If Huckabee doesn’t stop trotting out that stupid bass guitar,” Mr. Bieber told Rolling Stone, “he has no chance in hell of winning the Republican nomination. The American people are not going to elect a president who plays the same instrument as Sting and Flea. Not now. Not ever.”

i have to chuckle…but i also have to…wonder…if out of the mouths of babes?…hugmamma. 

(note: who the heck is “sting and flea?”)

“fudging” the truth to sell a book?

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

It’s heady stuff to be published, but downright phenomenal when a writer’s book lays the proverbial “golden egg.” Greg Mortenson seems to be the goose whose Three Cups of Tea was the egg that got laid. And as it turns out, it might have been really worth a “goose egg,” pun intended.

On Sunday evening, I watched CBS60 Minutes where journalist Jon Krakauer was featured as the man who brought down Mortenson’s “house of cards.” An early believer in the author’s tale, Krakauer eventually learned from a former boardmember of Mortenson’s charity, that all was not right with how it was being run. Furthermore the book itself is suspect because not all the details are based upon fact, or if they are, they did not occur as he described.

Greg Mortenson in Afghanistan 3500ppx

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Three Cups of Tea tells how Mortenson lost his way in a mountain-climbing trip in Pakistan in 1993. He was with a companion who disputes the events as told in the book. According to the author, he was revived by the village people of Korphe. As a result of their compassionate efforts on his behalf, Mortenson decided to undertake the construction of schools for children in the area. He also tells of being kidnapped by the Taliban on a return trip. Photographs in the book show him in garb like the men who surround him. One picture even shows the author holding up a rifle. “Sixty Minutes” spoke with some of these supposed kidnappers, one being an Islamic intellectual who has himself penned many books. These men insist they are not Taliban, nor did they kidnap Mortenson. Rather they were enlisted to show him the surrounding countryside. It was his desire to build other schools for the children of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

While Krakauer does not detract from Mortenson’s initial humanitarian motives, the journalist takes issue with the author’s inability to justify the inaccuracies that have since surfaced. It seems Mortenson has used in excess of a million dollars of funds donated for his charity, the Central Asia Institute, to promote his book. Less than that amount has gone towards the Institute’s work. His accounting of the monies used is found lacking in specifics. Traveling from city to city for book-signings has sometimes occured via private jet. Meanwhile, the schools that were suppose to be built, have either not been constructed, or stand empty of any occupants. Others that are operating, have not received a penny from the charity in years.

Since the late-70s, 60 Minutes' opening featur...

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Sixty Minutes’ Steve Croft was unsuccessful in getting Mortenson to speak on camera. He refused. He continued to maintain his silence when Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal sent an email asking for a comment for his article “Publisher Plans to Vet Memoir With Author.” On his charity’s website, Mortenson states that he is due to have “heart surgery later this week and when he recovers he will ‘come out fighting for what is right and just, and be able to talk to the media.’ ”

Meanwhile Mortenson’s publisher, Viking, maintains their praise of the author’s philantrophic efforts, but have registered their concerns saying that ” ’60 Minutes’ is a serious news organization.” So there could be a recall of the work, or the addition of an author’s note to later editions of the book. Krakauer who had donated $75,000 to the Central Asia Institute in its initial heyday, has now written his own lengthy account of Mortenson’s book, entitled Three Cups of Deceipt: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way.

On Forbes.com, writer Michael Humphrey covers the ongoing debate as to the facts of Mortenson’s book. After reviewing Mortenson’s mumbo-jumbo about the discrepancies put forth in the “60 Minutes” documentary, Humphrey sides with Krakauer’s rational dilineation of what really took place.

Mortenson abandoned his attempt on K2. He trekked down from the mountain in the company of three companions: his American friend and climbing partner Scott Darsney; his Balti porter, Mouzafer; and Darsney’s porter, Yakub. According to each of  these companions, the four men walked together into Askole, whereupon they immediately hired a jeep to take them to the city of Skardu, the district capital. When they drove out of the mountains, Darsney assured me, Mortenson “didn’t know Korphe existed.”

Krakauer’s book then deftly explains how Mortenson came to learn of Korphe a year later, rescinded a promise to build a school in Askole, invented the story of his Taliban abduction, and went on to found an organization that one former board treasurer says Mortenson considers “a personal ATM.”

And so Humphrey states:

In yesterday’s post, I was generous with Mortenson, a well-intentioned man who I thought might have lost his way as a storyteller and organizer. I thought with a good rebuttal, there was a ray of hope for his organization. Krakauer’s book dispels that notion.

power of the written word…opium for some…hugmamma.

Greg Mortenson signing books at the American L...

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